I grew up at the outskirts of Naawan, Misamis Oriental and so I can understand what it is to live a simple life in a barrio. But, even if life there was rather slow-paced, I spent the happiest days of my childhood climbing mango trees and jumping at the shallow beaches with my “kuya” Jimjim.
Being the youngest in a brood of eleven, my siblings used to give me extra attention. Sometimes it got to be a little exasperating because at a time when I thought that I was old enough, they still loved to kiss me, to hug me and to treat me like a baby.
My “Kuya” Jimjim was different. Although he was 12 years older, he made me feel like we were both of the same age. Most of our conversations centered around music and so it connected us in many ways. He played the guitar while I did the vocals. Sometimes, we did duets popularized by local and international artists over a decade ago.
Our neighbor told me that “tatay” aspired to be a singer too, when he was younger. But, poverty left him stranded in Naawan until he finally accepted his fate. Somehow, he saw in us a little fulfillment of his dreams. That’s the reason why he enjoyed joining us in some jamming sessions at home, while “nanay” who was our ever loyal fan, prepared “saging ginanggang” coated with star margarine and sugar for everyone. Music brought life to our family and as I grew a little older, we always received requests to sing for weddings and social gatherings.
“Swerte kaayo ka sa imong mga anak nong”, my “tatay’s” first cousin once told him. “Sila ang makahatag nimo ug ka hayahay sa kinabuhi”. Probably, “tatay” did not take it seriously but every time he looked at my brother Jimjim and me, it was clear that he had high hopes. “Tatay” worked so hard to bring food at the table. But with eleven children in all, whatever he brought was always not enough for us. So we grew up to be resourceful and helped him in whatever way we could.
One day, “kuya” Jimjim asked me to join him at the kitchen while he cooked “bas-oy” for lunch. He confessed that he was happiest every time the three of us (including “tatay”) were together doing what we loved most – which was singing. I was touched by what he said, but I wondered why he was quite emotional. The truth was, I felt the same way. He helped me gain confidence especially when singing in a big crowd.
Anyway, December was about to come and to my surprise, “Kuya” Jimjim revealed that he bought 2 piglets from our neighbor as early as August so we could have “lechon” during the “noche buena”. But I had the biggest laugh when he showed to me a list of songs which he wanted the three of us to sing during the get- together complete with a time table for the practice until the day of presentation. It appeared that he planned it ahead of time and put in a lot of his savings for the Christmas season. I could see how happy he was that day, and it was infectious. He even promised to buy me a new shirt just for the occasion. But, “tatay” was more ecstatic when he learned about it and started making little repairs of our dining table which was eaten up by “anay”.
By December 15, everything was set. The Christmas decors made from recycled materials, the array of songs, the give-aways, the buntings and the dining table were all done. ‘Kuya” Jimjim did not only buy me a shirt, he also bought me a pair of pants. He hugged me tight and told me to be a good boy. Once in a while, the three of us practiced the songs at the kitchen just to polish our blending. We really took it by heart. We were like the TNT singers, Naawan version. We sometimes laughed at our idiosyncrasy, but each song that we sang gave us a kind of happiness that was deeply rooted.
I was having an afternoon nap that gloomy Sunday, when I was awakened by people screaming outside our house. I thought that a fire broke out, only to be told of the gruesome news. “Tatay” and “Kuya’ Jimjim were crushed by an over-speeding dump truck carrying sand and gravel near the public market and died instantly. “Nanay” fainted twice and had to be rushed to the hospital. I trembled in disbelief of such a tragic accident. I remembered that “kuya” Jimjim told me to be a good boy. I remembered that he hugged me tight. There was a strange feeling alright, but it did not come to me that it was his way of saying goodbye – forever.
I cried a lot and begged to God to let them live so we could sing our songs together. But, God seemed deaf. HE would not hear of me. “Kuya” Jimjim lied! “Tatay” lied! We agreed to entertain our family members and relatives that Christmas. How could they leave me alone to sing our songs? I wished I died with them, too. I suffered from depression for many months.
“Nanay” could not afford to lose another sibling. She decided to take me to the kitchen and told me to finally accept their fate. If it was God’s will, then so be it. She said that they are probably very happy now in heaven. They may even be singing the songs that we practiced all along.
If that is so, I am jealous of the way they are happy without me. But, in this cruel world tragedies do happen. And, whether we like it or not they happen for a reason. There are also questions in life that could not easily be answered. “Nanay” hugged me tight and said, ‘be a good boy”. Suddenly, I heard melodies of the songs that we sang together. I could feel their presence. I ended up singing the songs myself, knowing “kuya” Jimjim and “Tatay” joined me out there in the afterlife.